Monday 25 April 2016

Harvest Monday - how not to freeze fruit and a seedling update

I missed Harvest Monday last week...although I'd done a few harvest-related bits and pieces, for some reason I hadn't taken any pics. Anyway, here's some of what I've been up to this week.....
I still have lots of fruit in the freezer...on the plot I have strawberries, blackcurrant bushes (three), red currant (one large bush), gooseberry (several), blackberry (all along one boundary), three young blueberries and a Saskatoon, aswell as a plum tree (that didn't set any fruit last year) and 4 dwarf apple trees. This week I've made a late start weeding the couch grass from around the fruit bushes and between the roots (my least favourite job) and will then mulch with leafmould or compost. The problem with leafmould is that we keep getting these strong winds, so it all just blows away! Maybe I'll try and fork it in a bit or weigh it down with sticks. The weather's turned for the worse today though, so it may be a while before I get this done.
So, I regularly cook up a batch of frozen fruit to go on our breakfasts. I have a bad technique for freezing the fruit after I've picked it.....give it a wash, drain it in the colander then stick in a plastic bag....inevitably they end up as a big lump when you go to use them, like this......
Ideally the fruit should be properly dried and / or frozen flat (eg on a tray) and then put into a bag, so they don't all stick together....but I get so much fruit there's not enough freezer space to do them on a tray first, plus I'm usually in a bit of a rush, hence them being bunged away like this. But they defrost out ok eventually so I'm not too all tastes the same when they're cooked. I usually add some old home-made preserve as a sweetener aswell - this batch had quince jelly. I also found another couple of tubs of strawberries behind some bags of blackberries in the freezer so am looking forward to eating them up soon, yummy.
We're still growing cress and sprouting beans on the windowsill - they make a salad a bit more exciting at this time of year. I made some fermented grated beetroot too, but not from my own beets.
We're out of greens at the moment, so I had another forage around the garden, picking nettle tops, garlic mustard and red-veined sorrel. It was very chilly, bbbr.
I softened some onion, then added a stock cube, hot water and some haricot beans I'd previously cooked in the slow cooker. Then I added the nettles (more than in the pic below), cooked that all for a few mins then turned off the heat, whizzed it up then added the chopped garlic-mustard and sorrel. I didn't get a pic of the finished soup but it was good! (Swirled in a bit of goat's yogurt too).

Yesterday we used up the last of the potatoes from storage...they'd kept pretty well considering the mild winter. At the allotment the early variety have just started peeping up out of the soil. I've just seen the forecast for tonight....possibly snow...I should've popped down and earthed them up, doh.


Seedling update

Out in my lean-to (greenhouse attached to back of house) there's a small forest (of tomatoes) forming. The small plant in the round pot is a plum seedling.... I was emptying out last year's compost from the lean-to pots into bags to take to the allotment and spotted it emerging from an old plum kernel in the compost...could be exciting.

The squashes have just started erupting. I love it when you see a mound of compost getting pushed out the way before the seedlings appear, especially with big seeds.
Cucumbers in the foreground, with sweetcorn in the loo rolls (and some more toms behind). I had them all covered with bubble wrap but as soon as one of a type of veg has germinated I take it off all of that type of veg as the others are usually not far behind.
Brassicas are looking ok
Peppers and aubergines. They're growing a lot slower than the toms but I think that usually happens
And finally, we had a nice sunny evening the other day so had a wander along the river and past the cathedral, lovely.

Thanks for reading this week. As usual I'm linking in with Harvest Monday hosted by Dave at Our Happy Acres


Monday 11 April 2016

Harvest Monday - a bit of foraging, Norwich Farmshare and 'Building with Straw Bales'

Okay, so this is a bit of a mammoth post, but I hope you find it interesting....
First, the harvests....
On Tuesday I got back from my trip away, and after checking on my seedlings (thank you Jan for looking after them) I had a rummage around the garden to cook us something healthy for tea. We're in a bit of a weird but exciting time, as Jan started a new job last week and *drum roll*.....I've taken voluntary redundancy as of the end of March...ooh! So I'm taking a little break from (paid) work before hopefully finding something interesting to get stuck in to. In the meantime I'll be focussing on growing us lots of food, doing some DIY around the house, having a de-clutter and being super-thrifty (more so than usual, if that's even possible....ok I can definitely cut down on the chocolate)
So, back to the harvests - I rummaged-up some young nettle tops and garlic mustard (aka jack by the hedge) from the garden. I haven't got round to doing any weeding out there yet so you never know what will spring up.
Plus there were a few spring greens (Tender leaves from a sprout plant that didn't sprout and a few leaves from a small kale plant)
Nettle leaves snipped off
Which went into a lovely fresh-tasting soup, along with a bit of carrot and drizzle of kefir (kefir is fermented milk, which jan's been making for us recently. It's meant to be good for your tummy biome)
That evening, I was having a quick (or not so quick) look on Facebook and spotted that Norwich Farmshare needed some help on their land. Farmshare works a bit like a veg box scheme, where you pay monthly to get a veg/ fruit 'share' each week that you go and collect from the hub, but also help out a few hours a year on the farm or in other supportive roles e.g. With harvesting, weeding etc. I'd wanted to get involved with them for a while but hadn't had time (and also don't usually need too many extra veg).
So the next day I got the bus to the farm on the outskirts of Norwich. They're actually moving to a new site this year and have to leave the current one as a blank canvas again, as it was when they started renting it years ago (i.e. a big flat field). This means the work is mainly taking everything apart (which is quite good fun) and getting in the last of the harvests. They have two really big poly tunnels (yes I am jealous) currently full of beautiful salad and oriental greens. I was allowed to pick some for helping out...yum
Spicy mustard greens, yummy
And then at the end of the second day I was given a huge 'share' of veg too for helping ...I was really touched by this as I hadn't been expecting
So we've been having really nice salad sandwiches (which is good timing as my corn salad is starting to bolt) and I used some the greens in a noodle soup
Plus we made a big roast (much tastier than it looks!)
I also had a few of my own leeks from the allotment so made a big pot of leek and potato soup for the freezer (and picked a few more nettles to add into it aswell). I took a tub of tomato and squash mix from the freezer as a swap.
Building with Straw Bales course
So, last weekend I went on a 3 day course at Stanmer Park in Brighton. It was sort of a way of marking the end of my old job and hopefully an exciting new beginning.
The course was based at Earthship Brighton. You can't really see from this pic but it's built into the hillside and the walls are all made from rammed-earth tyres
Stanmer Park is a lovely setting too. I got the train there each day from my sister's house in the city centre and had a beautiful walk each morning and evening across the park to and from the station.
Inside the Earthship the first part of the building is like a greenhouse. One of the volunteers is growing veggie seedlings
Some of the walls use glass bottles to let light through
Anyway...onto the straw bales
Straw bale buildings are brilliant for lots of reasons including; the straw is quick to grow and doesn't use much energy to produce compared with conventional building materials; they have great insulation (heat and noise); they will last for decades if not hundreds of years if looked after properly (i.e. kept dry by looking after the render); they store carbon; they provide a healthy internal environment (no nasty chemicals). They are also biodegradable at the end of their life and as they can be deemed non-permanent, sometimes planning permission will be given in a particular location whereas it wouldn't for a conventional build.
To build with straw bales you need to plan, plan, plan ahead. I'll just mention a few of the basic things which spring to mind...
All bales differ in width, height and density, even from the same batch, so before ordering your bales you need to go check out with the farmer and work out the average size of a bale from his machine (so you /your architect can design the house around the bale size, this makes things a lot easier later on). You also need to take into account compression on the height of the bales.
When designing your building you need to make allowances for doors and windows (again, design these to tie in with either full or half bales based on your average bale size). For our course we had a certain footprint that we had to make best use of. We were using the Nebraskan method, where the bales are load-bearing (as opposed to a design such as timber-frame, where the bales are 'just' infilled)
Working on the base
Measuring for the noggin locations (support under each bale). The holes in the noggins are for stakes that the bales get set on to keep them in place
Post locations for a window. The bales need notching (cutting out) for posts. And we learnt how to make half bales too
We made our own stakes from hazel and birch
This was fun (and the stakes reminded me of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, awesome show). This is called a shave really looks like a horse!
The bales were sorted into different densities (most dense for the bottom course and around doors and windows). They also needed 'dressing' which involved evening out all the edges to get a better fill.
Temporary corner braces to help with keeping the bales in alignment as the walls went up
We didn't have time to get very high, hehe (Plus would have needed scaffolding) but we did get the top plate on (that the roof would fix to)
Bales even have different faces (cut / folded) so we alternate layers to help the render stick evenly (we didn't learn how to render, that's another course). The top plate is in two halves to make it easier to handle when lifting on top of the walls
This wall looks pretty good

So that is a very very brief rundown, there is way more to it and I am definitely not an expert....But I really enjoyed the course and it's given me a good understanding of the things to consider when building with bales, plus we learned lots of practical skills that will be useful in other ways too.


One day I hope to have a bit of land to build my own sustainable house (that is a very big hope!) or even just a workshop, and this would definitely be one method to consider. I'll keep an ear open to see if anyone around here is building one to see if I can get involved. Who knows, maybe Farmshare will want a straw bale workshop / community building on their new land?


Brighton Permaculture run two of these courses a year...the next one is in July if you're interested. They also run several other Eco build courses (not sure I can justify doing another one yet!)


Phew, Thanks for persevering to the end. I'm linking in with Harvest Monday hosted by Dave at Our Happy Acres



Monday 4 April 2016

Harvest Monday and a walk around the Roman Town at Caistor St Edmund

I've been away on a 3 day course 'building with straw bales' in beautiful Stanmer Park in Brighton, and am feeling pretty tired (in a good way), where we learnt lots of principles and actually made a small Straw bale building. So much new information has gone into my brain it's odd focussing back on this stuff that happened earlier in the week. I'll do a separate post on the course but in the meantime here's the usual....
The purple sprouting broccoli plant that I'd salvaged from pigeon damage has gone on to produce more tasty shoots. I've now actually moved the plant as I needed to get the space ready for red onion sets. I occassionally do this with brassica plants in spring where they're in the way but have a bit more to give.
So I dug a hole in the bed where my leeks were ( which isn't going to be needed for a while) loosened up the soil all around the PSB with a fork and levered the plant out, plopped it in the new hole, filled in any gaps and also piled up extra soil around the stem as an anchor, treading the soil down firmly but trying not to damage any roots and gave it a good water.
The pickings are more leafy than flowery but they're very sweet anyway
Nice with cauliflower and a cheese sauce
This week I've also sown my parsnips (variety 'tender and true'). I usually sow them inbetween my rows of autumn broad beans but having been battered by the wind and squashed by foxes, they've grown out at odd angles, making it hard to sow between them. So instead I sowed them all in one bed where most of the broad beans hadn't survived...if I get a few beans too that would be good but I'm not holding my breath.
Anyway, there was a whole load of self-sown lambs lettuce in that bed, so I harvested it all....yum. I left most of it for Jan to use up this weekend whilst I've been away on the course. She's also been left in charge of my seedlings (I'm still away, visiting my folks now), so I'll be inspecting them all on my return ;)
A walk around Caistor Roman Town (Venta Icenorum)
We're very lucky in Norfolk with so many cool places to visit, lots of which are within easy reach of the city. A little way south east of the city is the site of the Roman capital of the area, where much evidence of the town still remains. Fantastically, most of the site is open to walk where you like, plus it's next to High Ash Farm, who carry out a lot of wildlife-friendly practices and provide lots of public access (permissive paths). The farmer (Chris Skinner) even features most weeks on the local radio, chatting about wildlife.
So on Tuesday we got the bus down to only took a few minutes. Walking through part ofHigh Ash Farm to get to the Roman town we found a few geocaches - this one was actually inside a fake plastic rock (not a fake plastic tree, for any Radiohead fans out there).
The Roman town was surrounded by a flint wall for protection, and there's still some lovely stretches of it In place
Here's Jan enjoying the spring sunshine
I took photos of a few of the information if you're interested, you should be able to click on them to enlarge them and have a read. There's a new mobile phone app too, which includes an augmented reality hold your phone up at various places and it's as if you're standing in the town, with the buildings all around you....rather cool.

Couldn't resist these cute sheep
We walked back to Norwich following the Boudica Way trail but wandered through High Ash Farm again first. The wildlife friendly farming makes it particularly lovely to walk's a large strip of teasel, grown for insects in the summer (lots of little flowers) and birds in the winter (lots of little seeds).

So that was another enjoyable trip into our lovely Norfolk countryside....where to go next?

Thanks for reading this week - I'm linking in with Harvest Monday hosted by Dave at Our Happy Acres

And here's a taster from the Building with Straw Bales course...ooh

More to come soon...